Recruiting and Retaining New Skaters

Recruiting and Retaining New Skaters

It's getting to be that time of year.  The summer bouting season is coming to a close. Leagues are beginning to focus energy on recruitment of new skaters.  I have been in charge of recruitment and training the new skaters with Anchor City Rollers for the past two years.  In that time we made a lot of changes to our intake program and I have watched our league grow because of it.  A number of other leagues have contacted me about how we do it so I would like to share some tips that I have found helped with the growth of our league.  Skater attrition is very difficult by the end of the summer for so many reason (life, work, injuries, babies, etc).  If we are not renewing the pool of new skaters to draft from then eventually there will not be enough people to continue the team.

Gather feedback from current/previous skaters.  
The first step I would take is to find out what works, and what doesn't work for you league.  Start by gathering feedback from your league members.  They are your best source to figure out what draws people to the sport, where they first heard about you, and for ensuring your skater's needs are being met.  Continued feedback goes a long way in helping skater retention.  I send out an email survey at the end of every 12 week training program for anyone who joined.  This is including skaters who are no longer skating with you.  Keep your league informed about the feedback process and any changes made because of it.  It can be surprising what comes out of it.  Like my practices try to have more music and dancing by popular request!

Where are you advertising your intake sessions?
Once you have an idea about where the majority of your skaters have discovered you, then you will be able to better focus your energy.  Our two biggest areas were social media and word of mouth.  You should regularly be posting about your upcoming events, information sessions, and open houses when they come up.  Let people know when you are accepting new skaters and they will seek you out.  Make sure that your league members are sharing this information with their friends.  Think about putting up posters in high traffic areas like you do bout posters.  Most local libraries, grocery stores, community centres, universities, colleges and some local business have community posting boards.  Local events are also a great way to get the word out about your league.  Try to find events that have a connection to your league's interests.  For example in the past we have participated in pride events, conferences about women in sports, speaking to girl guide units, etc.  It all depends on the connections your league has within the community.  Any time members are out on skates they will be drawing attention.  If you are not currently accepting skaters then collect their information to contact when sign up is open.  I try to keep a mailing list (with permission) of people who are interested in joining and send them out information on how to get gear, when we have events, etc.  Make sure that information on how to join is available at bouts, fundraisers, or other events you attend or host. 

Who are you advertising to?

The people who are interested in skating and playing roller derby can be different then those who want to watch a bout.  Use your feedback to determine why people start skating in the first place.  The results may surprise you.  I have found that most people get into the sport because they want to get some fitness, meet new people, and have some fun!  Use your advertising to convey these feelings.  Let people know about the awesome benefits of skating.  If you do up event posters for your intake bring them in to practice for league members to take away.  They can put it up in their respective community spaces.  Every league member should have business cards available to hand out.  More people are interested in roller derby if they know someone that participates in the sport.  

Recruiting Referees and NSOs.
There are a lot of reasons why people are interested in skating and roller derby.  Not everyone has dreams of making it on a travel team.  Some people have physical limitations when it comes to engaging in contact, other people just have no interest in it.  There are so many other ways to be involved in the sport so be sure to let them know about their options.  Some people approach the league knowing they want to be a dedicated referee/NSO.  Not all leagues have the capacity to have a separate men's team so many guys get involved in officiating.  I always try to encourage my new skaters to come for NSO and ref training.  It is a great way to pick up the game play and rules of the sport.  Officials training is can be a fantastic compliment to skate training.  On average it takes a skater until their second year before they are draftable to a team.  Most people are able to pick up the basic skating skills required to be a referee within their first season (depending on when they join).  If you have someone who attends the normal learn to skate practice, as well as officials training, it usually means they will be spending more time on skates and therefore have the opportunity to grow their skills faster.  Sometimes people are unable to commit to regular skate training.  It may be due to finances or sometimes it is due to scheduling conflicts.  These people should be invited to come for NSO training as a way to participate in the sport and the social atmosphere, without the same level of commitment.  

I have been a referee for the past two years and I love it for so man reasons.  It is a great space for the derby nerds.  For those people who relish in learning all the ins and outs of our sport.  I decided to become an official after experiencing delays and cancellation of games due to a lack of trained officials.  A game can not happen without the people who ensure things will run smoothly and safely.  I continue to officiate because it brings me closer to my derby community, even outside of my home league.  Other officials I have encountered are so passionate and dedicated to this sport.  It is amazing to travel outside of your local area and be part of a team with people you have never skated with before.  

Make sure you are supporting ALL of your league members.
This is a focus on retaining the members that are already a part of your league.  It is great to have successful intakes filled with many people, but if they do not stick around then that is a much bigger problem.  Take a look at your feedback responses to make sure that you are meeting people's needs.  When I am talking about supporting your league members I mean outside of the usual scheduled practices.  What do you do to boost morale and make people feel like they are a part of the community?  We try to host monthly events for members and their friends.  These are things like derby watching parties, skate cleaning nights, outdoor recreational skating, etc.  These are things that people can participate in regardless of skating abilities.  Think about keeping your events accessible so that people can bring their families.  (We often get some free space in a local bar but this limits people from bringing their children to the events). When I am talking about league members I am not just talking about the dues paying members.  Your league communities is built up of more then simply the people who pay dues and attending skating practice.  What does your league do for retention and support of your referees, NSOs, and volunteers?  It is important to support everyone that keeps your league rolling.  Many officials travel a lot during the summer to make sure that there are enough people to run a game.  This can get expensive fast.  Gas cards are a great way to show your appreciation for visiting officials to make sure they are able to return.  Does your league provide continues training oppourtunities?  What about incentives for officials?  Some leagues offer half or no dues to participate in the appropriate level of skate training.

Skating equipment
One of the biggest barriers for people to join the sport is the process of navigating skate gear.  A full set of new equipment plus the cost of joining a learn to skate program can be costly.  Both are a big investment, especially if someone is unsure how long they will be skating.  Some leagues have loaner gear for people when they come to an open house or when they begin skating.  If your league does not own equipment for lending then you can usually put a call out to your league members.  Skates are a lot harder to come by then protective gear.  It is such a personal item and there are so many options for set ups.  Some people have a second set of skates for outdoor skating that they may be able to lend to new skaters. I would recommend setting a time frame for how long people are able to borrow the equipment.  Typically I set the expectation that all skaters are required to have their own equipment by the third week of practices.  This gives them time to find equipment that fits them, allows for any late registration of new skaters, and coincides with the two week insurance waiver if they signed it on day one.

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